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Felix Zandman: The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit

Felix Zandman, founder and chairman of passives components vendor {complink 6199|Vishay Intertechnology Inc.}, faced great odds early in life. But he went on to achieve great things, not least of all founding and nurturing a $3 billion revenue company, thanks to his tenacious attitude.

Zandman lost members of his family under Nazi Germany. He lived in fear, hiding from the authorities in Poland. He died today, aged 83, in his adopted home of Israel, leaving behind a wealth of inventions and a story of inspiration and valuable life lessons for the current generation of electronics industry leaders. (See: Vishay Intertechnology Mourns the Loss of Its Founder.)

Nothing could diminish Zandman's zest for life. Personal tragedies did not leave him bitter, and even occasional professional disappointments did not deter him from holding out a welcoming hand to colleagues and rivals. If you met Felix Zandman just once, he'd stay in your memory for a lifetime.

At the height of the industry's horrible downturn in 2001, Zandman told me most supply contracts with OEMs were not worth the paper they were written on. His company suffered as a result, as customers simply walked away from so-called iron-clad contracts. Vishay had invested a great deal of money to support the lost business, but only two years later, he abruptly rejected an interview request at the Eletronica trade conference in Munich because he was having a party for customers. “Tonight I honor the customers,” he said at Vishay's pavilion. I had my interview the next day. “I'm sure you understand,” Zandman said. “The customers are the reason we are here.”

Lively and energetic even as he grew older, the holocaust survivor moved and spoke with the passion and force of youth. Dr. Zandman, as he is known across the electronics industry, relocated to Israel to spend his last years, but he continued to direct a company that has grown strongly from its base in Pennsylvania to all major regions of the globe.

He will be sorely missed. I first met Zandman in the late 1990s at his office in Malvern, Pa. An interview turned into a lecture when Zandman jumped up from his seat to give me a quick tutorial on some engineering and design issues related to Vishay. Several more meetings later, I was hooked. He mesmerized people without even trying, and his plain talk and simplicity in an industry filled with hubris and bloated egos was refreshing.

My last interview with Dr. Zandman was in July 2010. I had hoped to see him again in Malvern but learned he was spending most of his time in Israel. We spoke on the phone, and the final question I asked was how he would like to be remembered. “I haven't written the last chapter yet,” he said.

Typical, I thought. Zandman's autobiography is titled “Never the Last Journey”; that theme applied to how Zandman managed Vishay. He moved the business forcefully from passive components towards active components, because he believed in the marriage of the two. That was why Vishay acquired Siliconix. Zandman was still in pursuit of that goal when I spoke with him last July.

Zandman is gone now, but his son will continue his legacy. Marc Zandman has been appointed chairman of the board of directors at Vishay, and the lessons and ideals his father taught him will no doubt shine through the company.

“My father’s high standards and values are embedded in Vishay's culture and impact all that we do at Vishay, across the globe, every day, and he served our company until the end,” Marc Zandman said in a statement. “I humbly take on the responsibilities of his role as executive chairman of the Board, and fully intend to continue his ideals in both business and personal matters.”

8 comments on “Felix Zandman: The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit

  1. DataCrunch
    June 6, 2011

    Hi Bolaji, thanks for sharing this very inspirational and very moving article.  To overcome such unimaginable hardships and to build a Fortune 1000, employing over 22,000 people is truly amazing. Although, I never met Dr. Felix Zandman, the legend that created one of the largest electronics component’s companies, he will be missed.  

  2. Ariella
    June 6, 2011

    Yes, it is a very inspiring story. The quotes really show the clear-sightedness in acknowledging the customer and an affirmation of life in saying that there are still unwritten chapters to go for an octogenarian. 

  3. saranyatil
    June 7, 2011

    Definitely a motivating article Bolaji, The story reveals the complete hardwork and attitude to achieve. Wishing his son good luck in all means and continue the good work his father did.

  4. FLYINGSCOT
    June 7, 2011

    I never had the honor of meeting Dr. Zandman but a few of my colleagues did.  They spoke very highly of him.  It often takes the experience of real hardship to develop the mettle to excel in the business world.  Dr. Zandman will be missed. 

  5. screenwriter
    June 7, 2011

    I met Dr Zandman in the 90's and was very impressed with his calm demeanor and hands on approach to a multi billion $ multi national company. Two or three years ago, I had the opportunity to be present at the NEDA Executive Conference where Dr Zandman received a Lifetime Achievement Award. He kept a room of 350 hardened execs spellbound as he talked about his life in a Nazi concentration camp, his escape to a town called Vishey Poland, where a family of strangers took him and several others in at great risk. He lived in a ditch under a barn for 17 months and learned science and engineering from his uncle, in a ditch, by candlelight.

    In a world where the word “great” is thrown around carelessly, this truly was a great man who spent his life giving back to society through humanitarian efforts.

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 7, 2011

    This is a wonderful tribute, Bolaji. Anyone who got to spend some time with Dr. Zandman was better for the experience, and your blog does him justice. Many of the people in the industry that have contacted EBN about Dr. Zandman talk first about the gentleman he was and then the company he built. What a legacy to leave behind.

  7. tmlow
    June 7, 2011

    I had the great honour as a guess (representing a Vishay distributor) in a Vishay Sales convention years back and met Dr. Zandman. We shook hand, exchange well wishes and I could feel the greatness in the man … holocast survivor, scientist, founder of Vishay. He is a man who is overflowing with passion for his life and work. I was awed and inspired by the man. It may yet be his last journey, as the man famously said “Never The Last Journey”!

  8. Susan Fourtané
    June 9, 2011

    I have only one word to say: Inspirational. 

    -Susan 

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